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Steelworkers, Lawmakers Express Outrage Over Chinese Steel Being Used on Verrazano Bridge Renovation

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge being built, American style, back in the day.

First, the good news: The Verrazano Bridge, a double-decked suspension bridge which connects the boroughs of Staten Island and Brooklyn, is getting a face lift.  Now, the bad news: The MTA has decided it will be done with Chinese steel.  Cue the backlash.

United Steelworkers’ Vice President Tom Conway lamented the decision saying, “It’s a kick in the teeth. There’s a lot of New Yorkers who would be thrilled to work on this project. It should be American made.”

MTA officials told the New York Daily News that there is not an American steel plant that can produce the type of high-tech steel plating needed for the project. The technique is known as orthotropic design.  In a statement, the MTA said they “worked diligently to find an American steel manufacturer with the capability, experience and desire to fabricate the steel bridge deck … the MTA could not find an American fabricator.”

But the steelworkers aren’t buying it.

“We are very skeptical about their claim they can’t find an American plant to make these plates. We found two in Pennsylvania — 100 miles from the bridge — that bid on the project and wanted to do it,” said Conway.

The real issue is money, he said.

“This job here is about $30 an hour. In China, the workers will get anywhere from $10 to $15 a day,” he said.

The MTA has said that the project is similar to one currently being finished on the Bay Bridge in California. Let’s hope not.  As we wrote in late May, that renovation project has become problematic thanks in large part to the use of Chinese labor and parts.  Several bolts have failed and various sections of the bridge have been forced into re-renovation.  But the MTA is willing to risk a similar fate in order to save money (in the near term) on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

State Sen. Diane Savino and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis have asked the MTA to reconsider their decision.  They claim that despite the higher cost of using American steel (the MTA has estimated it would add $100 million to the project’s budget) the MTA has the opportunity to boost the local economy and ensure a superior product than what China will deliver. In their letter, the Staten Island lawmakers said:

“We fear their lack of expertise might yield a product of substandard quality,” the two wrote, ” … (which) will ultimately jeopardize safety and result in costly delays, overruns and, ultimately, repairs … While we are all concerned about saving costs, we must consider the impact this plan would have on our fragile economic recovery and the loss of American jobs … It is shocking that the MTA would advance a plan to unnecessarily spend taxpayer dollars on foreign labor and materials. American workers and industry are more than capable of rebuilding the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of using American workers and products on major infrastructure projects.”

According to the International Business Times, U.S. companies’ use of Chinese steel is on the upswing:

In the first quarter of 2013, Chinese steel companies shipped 480,095 tons of steel to the U.S., up 33 percent from a year earlier. By contrast, total U.S. steel imports for the same period fell by 17 percent to 10.6 million tons.

U.S. steel mills in turn have become increasingly inactive. As of June 15, their production has fallen to just 76.7 percent of their capacity, down from 78.8 percent a year earlier. In 2012, American firms only produced 5.7 percent of the world’s total steel output, at 88.6 million tons.

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was completed in 1969 by American Steel and Ironworkers. “We were good enough then,” Conway says, “but now all that work will go to China, to a government-owned company. Maybe we’ll get some work tying up the barges.”

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